195 Best Sights in Tuscany, Italy

Palazzina dei Mulini

During Napoléon's famous exile on Elba in 1814–15, he built this residence out of two windmills. It still contains furniture from the period and Napoléon's impressive library, with the more than 2,000 volumes that he brought here from France.

Piazzale Napoleone 1, Portoferraio, 57037, Italy
0565-915846
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Rate Includes: From €5, Closed Tues.

Palazzo Casali

Built by the Casali family, who lived here until 1409, this palace is home to the Accademia Etrusca, with an extensive library, La Biblioteca Comunale, and the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona (aka MAEC). An eclectic mix of Egyptian objects, Etruscan and Roman bronzes and statuettes, and paintings is on display in the museum. Perhaps the most famous piece is the Tabula Cortonensis, an Etruscan contract written on bronze that was found in 1922 and dates from the second century BC. Look for work by Renaissance artists such as Luca Signorelli and Pinturcchio (circa 1454–1513). From May through September, guided tours are available in English with prior arrangement.

Piazza Signorelli 9, Cortona, 52044, Italy
0575-630415
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Rate Includes: €10, Closed Mon. Nov.–Mar.

Palazzo Chigi

Near the Collegiata stands this splendid town palace, named after the family to whom the Medici bestowed San Quirico in 1667. Small art exhibitions are occasionally displayed in the palace courtyard, and the tourist office is here. The rest of the building is closed to the public.

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Palazzo Comunale

Montepulciano's town hall dates from the late 13th century, though it was restructured in the 14th century and again in the mid-15th century. Michelozzo oversaw this last phase, using the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence as his inspiration. From the tower, a commanding view of Siena, Mt. Amiata (the highest point in Tuscany) and Lake Trasimeno (the largest lake on the Italian peninsula) can be enjoyed on a clear day.

Piazza Grande 1, Montepulciano, 53045, Italy
0578-757341
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Palazzo dei Priori

Tuscany's first town hall, built between 1208 and 1254, has a no-nonsense facade, fortress-like crenellations, and a five-sided tower. It later served as a model for other town halls throughout the region, including Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. The medallions that adorn the facade were added after the Florentines conquered Volterra. The town leaders still meet on the first floor in the Sala del Consiglio, which is open to the public and has a mid-14th-century fresco of the Annunciation.

Piazza dei Priori 1, Volterra, 56048, Italy
0588-86099
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Rate Includes: €3

Palazzo del Podestà

Radda's town hall (aka Palazzo Comunale), in the middle of town, was built in the second half of the 14th century and has always served the same function. The 51 coats of arms (the largest is the Medici's) embedded in the facade represent the past governors of the town, but unless you have official business, the building is closed to the public.

Palazzo del Podestà

Across the piazza from the Collegiata is the "old" town hall built in 1239. Its tower was erected by the municipality in 1255 to settle the raging "my-tower-is-bigger-than-your-tower" contest—as you can see, a solution that just didn't last long. The palace is closed to visitors.

Palazzo Pfanner

Here you can rest your feet and let time pass, surrounded by a harmonious arrangement of sun, shade, blooming plants, water, and mysterious statuary. The palazzo's well-kept formal garden, which abuts the city walls, centers on a large fountain and pool. Allegorical statues line pebbled paths that radiate outward. The palazzo, built in the 17th century, was purchased in the 19th century by the Pfanners, a family of Swiss brewers. The family, which eventually gave the town a mayor, still lives here.

Via degli Asili 33, Lucca, 55100, Italy
0583-954029
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Rate Includes: From €5, Closed Dec.–Mar.

Palazzo Piccolomini

In 1459, Pius II commissioned Bernardo Rossellino to design the perfect palazzo for his papal court. The architect took Florence's Palazzo Rucellai by Alberti as a model and designed this 100-room palace. Three sides of the building fit perfectly into the urban plan around it, while the fourth, looking over the valley, has a lovely loggia uniting it with the gardens in back. Guided tours departing every 30 minutes take you to the papal apartments, including a beautiful library, the Sala delle Armi (with an impressive weapons collection), and the music room, with its extravagant wooden ceiling forming four letter Ps, for Pope, Pius, Piccolomini, and Pienza. The last tour departs 30 minutes before closing.

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Piazza Pio II, Pienza, 53026, Italy
0577-286300
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Rate Includes: €8 or €12 including Museo Diocesano, Duomo, and its crypt, Closed Tues., early Jan.–mid-Feb., and mid-Nov.–late Nov.

Palazzo Pubblico

Città

The Gothic Palazzo Pubblico, the focal point of the Piazza del Campo, has served as Siena's town hall since the 1300s. It now also contains the Museo Civico, with walls covered in early Renaissance frescoes. The nine governors of Siena once met in the Sala della Pace, famous for Ambrogio Lorenzetti's frescoes called Allegories of Good and Bad Government, painted in the late 1330s to demonstrate the dangers of tyranny. The good government side depicts utopia, showing first the virtuous ruling council surrounded by angels and then scenes of a perfectly running city and countryside. Conversely, the bad government fresco tells a tale straight out of Dante. The evil ruler and his advisers have horns and fondle strange animals, and the town scene depicts the seven mortal sins in action.

The Torre del Mangia, the palazzo's famous bell tower, is named after one of its first bell ringers, Giovanni di Duccio (called Mangiaguadagni, or earnings eater). The climb up to the top is long and steep, but the view makes it worth every step.

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Parco Naturale della Maremma

The well-kept nature preserve at Monti dell'Uccellina is an oasis of green hills sloping down to small, secluded beaches on protected coastline. Wild goats and rabbits, foxes and wild boars, as well as horses and a domesticated long-horned white ox unique to this region, make their home among miles of sea pines, rosemary plants, and juniper bushes. The park also has scattered Etruscan and Roman ruins and a medieval abbey, the Abbazia di San Rabano.

Enter from the south at Talamone (turn right 1 km [½ mile] before town) or from Alberese, both reachable from the SS1 (Via Aurelia). Daily limits restrict the number of cars that can enter, so in summer it's best to either reserve ahead or to leave your car in Alberese and use the regular bus service. Contact the park's information office for bookings and to secure English-language guides.

Parco Naturale delle Alpi Apuane

The Parco Regionale delle Alpi Apuane (Regional Park of the Apuan Alps) straddles the hills of coastal Versilia and spreads mostly across the mountainous Garfagnana inland. It includes caves, grottoes, peaks, and valleys. Hiking, riding, and mountain bike trails crisscross the park. There are various points of access for various types of excursions, and all are clearly indicated on the interactive park map. The park's visitor center is in the town of Castelnuovo Garfagnana.

Piazza dei Cavalieri

The piazza, with its fine Renaissance Palazzo dei Cavalieri, Palazzo dell'Orologio, and Chiesa di Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, was laid out by Giorgio Vasari in about 1560. The square was the seat of the Ordine dei Cavalieri di San Stefano (Order of the Knights of St. Stephen), a military and religious institution meant to defend the coast from possible invasion by the Turks.

Also in this square is the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore, founded by Napoléon in 1810 on the French model. Here graduate students pursue doctorates in literature, philosophy, mathematics, and science. In front of the school is a large statue of Ferdinando I de' Medici dating from 1596. On the extreme left is the tower where the hapless Ugolino della Gherardesca (died 1289) was imprisoned with his two sons and two grandsons—legend holds that he ate them. Dante immortalized him in Canto XXXIII of his Inferno. Duck into the Church of Santo Stefano (if you're lucky enough to find it open) and check out Bronzino's splendid Nativity of Christ (1564–65).

Piazza del Popolo

The town's main square teems with cafés and bars. It's an excellent spot for people-watching; in the evening and on weekends it seems like everyone is out walking, seeing, and being seen.

Piazza del Pretorio

Here, in the central town square, you'll find the 13th-century Palazzo Pretorio, which has a facade adorned with coats of arms of Sovana's captains of justice, and the Renaissance Palazzo Bourbon dal Monte.

Piazza dell'Anfiteatro

Here's where the ancient Roman amphitheater once stood. Some of the medieval buildings built over the amphitheater retain its original oval shape and brick arches.

Piazza Grande

Filled with handsome buildings, this large square on the heights of the old historic town is Montepulciano's pièce de résistance.

Piazza Grande

With its irregular shape and sloping brick pavement, framed by buildings of assorted centuries, Arezzo's central piazza echoes Siena's Piazza del Campo. Though not quite so magnificent, it's lively enough during the outdoor antiques fair the first weekend of the month and when the Giostra del Saracino (Saracen Joust), featuring medieval costumes and competition, is held here on the third Saturday of June and on the first Sunday of September.

Piazza Matteotti

Greve's gently sloping and asymmetrical central piazza is surrounded by an attractive arcade with shops of all kinds. In the center stands a statue of the discoverer of New York harbor, Giovanni da Verrazzano (circa 1480–1527). Check out the lively market held here on Saturday morning.

Pieve di San Marcello

This church dates from the 12th century, though the interior was redone in the 18th century and most of the art inside is from that period.

Piazza Arcangeli, San Marcello Pistoiese, 51028, Italy
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Pinacoteca

One of Volterra's best-looking Renaissance buildings contains an impressive collection of Tuscan paintings arranged chronologically on two floors. Head straight for Room 12, with Luca Signorelli's (circa 1445–1523) Madonna and Child with Saints and Rosso Fiorentino's later Deposition. Though painted just 30 years apart, they illustrate the shift in style from the early 16th-century Renaissance ideals to full-blown Mannerism: the balance of Signorelli's composition becomes purposefully skewed in Fiorentino's painting, where the colors go from vivid but realistic to emotively bright. Other important paintings in the small museum include Ghirlandaio's Apotheosis of Christ with Saints and a polyptych of the Madonna and Saints by Taddeo di Bartolo, which once hung in the Palazzo dei Priori.

Pinacoteca Nazionale

Città

The superb collection of five centuries of local painting in Siena's national picture gallery can easily convince you that the Renaissance was by no means just a Florentine thing. Accordingly, the most interesting section of the collection, chronologically arranged, has several important firsts. Room 1 contains a painting of the Stories of the True Cross (1215) by the so-called Master of Tressa, the earliest identified work by a painter of the Sienese school, and is followed in Room 2 by late-13th-century artist Guido da Siena's Stories from the Life of Christ, one of the first paintings ever made on canvas (earlier painters used wood panels).

Rooms 3 and 4 are dedicated to Duccio, a student of Cimabue (circa 1240–1302) and considered to be the last of the proto-Renaissance painters. Ambrogio Lorenzetti's landscapes in Room 8 are among the first truly secular paintings in Western art. Among later works in the rooms on the floor above, keep an eye out for the preparatory sketches used by Domenico Beccafumi (1486–1551) for the 35 etched marble panels he made for the floor of the Duomo.

Poggio a Caiano

For a look at gracious country living Renaissance style, take a detour to the Medici villa in Poggio a Caiano. Lorenzo "il Magnifico" (1449–92) commissioned Giuliano da Sangallo (circa 1445–1516) to redo the villa, which was lavished with frescoes by important Renaissance painters such as Pontormo (1494–1556), Franciabigio (1482–1525), and Andrea del Sarto (1486–1531). You can walk around the austerely ornamented grounds while waiting for one of the villa tours, which start on the half hour. The guides do not speak; rather, they follow you around the place.

Porta all'Arco Etrusco

Even if a good portion of the arch was rebuilt by the Romans, three dark, weather-beaten, 4th-century-BC heads (thought to represent Etruscan gods) still face outward to greet those who enter here. A plaque on the outer wall recalls the efforts of the locals who saved the arch from destruction by filling it with stones during the German withdrawal at the end of World War II.

Porto Azzurro

The waters of the port at Elba's eastern end are noticeably azzurro (sky-blue). It's worth a stop for a walk and gelato along the rows of yachts harbored here.

Porto Ercole

On the southeastern side of Monte Argentario, this small port town is the haunt of the rich and famous, with top-notch hotels and restaurants perched on the cliffs.

Porto Santo Stefano

On the north side, busy and colorful Porto Santo Stefano is Monte Argentario's main center, with markets, hotels, restaurants, and ferry service to Giglio and Giannutri, two of the Tuscan islands.

Portoferraio

The lively port town where Victor Hugo (1802–85) spent his boyhood makes a good base for visiting Elba. Head right when you get off the ferry to get to the centro storico, fortified in the 16th century by the Medici grand duke Cosimo I (1519–74). Most of the pretty, multicolor buildings that line the old harbor date from the 18th and 19th centuries when the boats in the port were full of mineral exports rather than tourists.

Rio Marina

Elba's quietest town is an old-fashioned port on the northeastern edge of the island. Here you'll find a pebble beach, an old mine, a leafy public park, and ferry service to Piombino.

Rocca di Montestaffoli

If you want to see more of that quintessential Tuscan landscape, walk up to the Rocca di Montestaffoli, which sits at the highest point in San Gimignano. Built after the Florentine conquest to keep an eye on the town, and dismantled a few centuries later, it's now a public garden.

Via della Rocca, San Gimignano, 53037, Italy
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